Hello friends and Fortune readers.
Wall Street is feeling bullish this morning ahead of the market open as investors digest the European Central Bank’s long-anticipated bond-buying program announcement. U.S. futures are higher, while European markets are mixed. Shares in Asia had a muted session.
The list of companies reporting earnings today includes coffee giant Starbucks (SBUX). Late Wednesday, Dow company American Express (AXP) reported results and said it will cut more than 4,000 jobs over the next year. And eBay (EBAY) said it plans to cut 2,400 jobs.
Today’s must-read story is by Fortune’s Erin Griffith and Dan Primack. “The Age of Unicorns” looks at the rise of the billion-dollar tech startup.
Here’s what else you need to know about today.
1. Europe gets set for quantitative easing.
This morning European Central Bank President Mario Draghi introduced Europe’s first-ever quantitative-easing program, a large-scale buying of government bonds to stimulate the eurozone’s sputtering economy. Together with its existing programs, the ECB will pump 60 billion euros into the euro zone economy from this March until September next year. The strategy follows the recent U.S. program, which was largely considered a success. Many worry the program won’t have the same effect on the eurozone. As a currency union, each nation state still has its own government bonds and politics with which to contend, making central bank policy a much more complicated process.
2. The dollar store battle could finally be over.
Family Dollar shareholders will finally vote on Dollar Tree’s $8.5 billion bid, bringing an end to a nearly year-long battle between three U.S. discount retail chains. Dollar General (DG) had battled Dollar Tree (DLTR) to purchase the third rival, even submitting a competing bid that is about $4 a share higher. The reason for preferring the lower bid, which would leave nearly half a billion dollars on the table, is a potential block by the Federal Trade Commission. The group is poised to block a merger between Family Dollar and Dollar General on antitrust grounds, though the discount chain’s tie-up with Dollar Tree doesn’t face the same complications.
3. Earnings, earnings, earnings.
Earnings season continues with a lineup of top companies coming out with earnings today.
This morning, airlines Southwest (LUV) and United Continental reported results. Investors are interested to know how lower fuel prices may boost airline earnings this year. Delta, which reported its fourth-quarter results earlier this week, expects tumbling oil prices to result in more than $2 billion in savings over 2015.
Pay attention after the close of trading when Starbucks is scheduled to release results. Starbucks’ annual revenue growth was 11% in 2014 despite coffee prices that doubled over the period. Analysts expect the company to post earnings of $1.16 a share on sales of $4.8 billion during its fiscal first quarter as coffee prices have fallen significantly.
4. Disneyland measles outbreak.
Nearly 60 cases of measles have been reported since mid-December, and most of those illnesses have been linked back to the Disney (DIS) theme park in southern California. Five employees have been confirmed sick, and the infections have spread as far as the Bay Area in the north. California officials are encouraging people to be vaccinated against the highly contagious, airborne disease, and the Orange County school district may ban unvaccinated students who may have been exposed.
5. Bill and Melinda Gates get into banking.
Through their Gates Foundation non-profit, the couple is tackling a new, major issue for low-income countries: banking. In their annual letter posted Wednesday, they laid out the goals for the foundation over this year and predicted that the “lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history.” Part of that transformation is the growth of mobile banking, which will allow people who don’t have access to traditional banking systems to store money, make deposits and access a full range of financial products from their phones. The Gates Foundation will focus on creating more mobile-money systems that can push this transformation forward.